Sunday, 23 October 2016

Steam requiem

You come to a point in that field, and there
the winds are mussing the crops' long hair,
and out of the next window, half shuttered - 
a farmer at lunch, a whirlpool of birds.
The thresh of blurred gravel next to the wheels.
On the far side another one reveals
a moment of bamboo, a flash of fig -
a station rolls past, the platforms - red brick
and yellow signage, commuters everywhere  -
but it’s diesel now, or clean electric.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Back at Write...Edit...Publish...and back at home

Time to get writing again!

Three ways of looking...

It is time to head back to Write...Edit...Publish... for the October chapter and this is the much anticipated Halloween month. There's a choice of two prompts, both utterly yum! I am going with the Constellations prompt, there are enough scary stories in my life just now to want to write more :) The scariest thing in the world in uncertainty, not knowing what the outcome of any given event will be.  That one thing can reduce me to absolute jelly-legs. But that is also the one thing I, in fact we all, live with on a daily basis, dealing with our given portions as best as we can.

Recently, I have been reading some modern American poetry and specifically fell in love with this poem here, which worked itself into the title.
Not sure what these things are, they aren't poetry, and they aren't fiction. And they probably aren't fact either, though they might feel like that to me. Memory is a tricky thing, always selectively romanticised in retrospect.  Whatever they are, I am happily dedicating them to my mother, who, I am pleased to report, is now recovering at home after her recent illness. She is named after Arundhati, the Indian name for Alcor in the star pair Mizar-Alcor which are part of the Big Dipper (called the Saptarshi, or the Seven Sages in the Indian system of astronomy). I don't know of anyone more deserving of being named after a star. Constellations of Meanings


The sun leaves smudged finger marks on the sky as he disappears.  Smoke-lilac, bruise-purple, ash-pink, burnt-rust.  I feel like taking a pot shot from the hospital window.  The glass pane is large, divided into three. So many things are divided into three.  Day and Night and the In-between times. Heavens, Earth, Underworld.   Left, Right, Centre.  Faith, Belief, Rituals.  Daughter, Mother, Dust.

She is named for a companion to one of the Seven Sages, she taught me that constellation in the sky herself. It’s the only one I can immediately identify looking up more than forty years later wherever I am in the northern hemisphere. 

“It’s a question mark in the sky.  See?” And I had traced it out with a childhood finger and seen.  “And that one in the middle of the downward stroke? That’s Great Sage Vashistha.  Look a little closer, do you see another? Not as shiny as the others, but she’s there.  That’s the one. Not as conspicuous as the Sages, but always constant, always shining, sticking close to her partner. She’s a good star to have on your side.”

I look from the window to her face on the pillow.  It is tired, lines of pain etched into deep grooves, the claw marks of time running parallel on the forehead. Her eyelids look a few sizes too big for her eyes, ringed with the same smoke-lilac of the sunset sky.  My hand on her forehead feels unwieldy, not delicate enough to touch fragile things.  Her skin is cool velvet, the fever has broken sometime ago, the clamminess now a faint residual glow.  Outside the threefold panes, the constellations have quietly climbed into their places meanwhile.  The Sage’s Companion is faint, but still burning.  Still a good star to have on my side.


A snatch of song interrupts my titanic struggles with the Red Giants, White Dwarfs and Black Bodies.

‘Oh my mother’s smile lights up the face of the Moon; her tender gaze, how can it be lost? it’s there in the eyes of the stars; the sun steals her vermilion to deck the dawn…’ 

It is a 1950’s number popular with her generation, ostensibly an elegy for someone’s mother. Both the melody and the lyrics are maudlin and mildly annoying, really, Bengalis! 

‘Please stop!  I am trying to study here. And my grandmother isn’t dead, why are you singing that?? It’s a silly song anyway.’

I can hear her laugh, she is always laughing, the house rings with it all the time, expansive, pervading, infectious.  But her comeback is devoid of laughter.  ‘You get distracted too quickly, child! And it’s not about your grandmother, it can be about any mother. Mother Nature, the Earth Mother.  Mother is a vast word.  One word, many interpretations, whole constellations of meanings.’

‘It’s just an awful sentimental song.’

‘Space for your dislike too in this house. Just shut the door.’

Blue, white, red, dead.  All things born must die. All the stars are dead.  The constellations are dead, they are prehistory, primordially dead.  Dead is dead black, matter burnt to a crisp, to a nothingness.  Blue is hotter than red.  Red is hotter than dead.  Cool ice blue, fiery red hot.  No, hot blue, cool red. Constellations may actually be patterns connecting star-corpses. Constellations of bluewhitereddeadcrispblacknothingness.  Constellations of ancient, ancient light caught in a time warp.  Constellations of meanings. 

I get up to shut the door.  She has meanwhile switched to a different tune, ‘Are you only an image? Are you not true like the planets, constellations and the sun?…’


A single star pins up the sky in place.  The sunset is a ragged, multicoloured curtain on the horizon. We heave ourselves off in long strides, back off the inselberg at the starting point of the highway. The twilight is just one sharp flare of light - and it goes quickly here.  We haven’t left ourselves much leeway. 

‘Pretty, isn’t it? A bit more colourful than back home.’

I am silent.  Because her ‘back home’ isn’t mine.  She is in a boarding school somewhere abroad, here only for the long summer holiday.  I live a little way up the road, my school a fifteen-minute drive. The local girls’ school - a compound of low buildings splashed with vivid bougainvillea and hibiscus. A residential school where I, as an expatriate child, am exempt - let off every afternoon to go back home.

Back home is a phrase fraught with many difficulties.  Because half the time home doesn’t feel anywhere at the back, it is right here in front of me, in this wide open, magnificent savannah I have known half my life.  And the other half? If I listen carefully, I can hear my still unformed identities split down the middle.  When I go on holiday, my grandfather rebukes my parents in absentia through me, ‘For how long? This nomad’s life? Settling down is also something. Do you know what your ‘gotra’ is?’

I don’t have the faintest clue. And I don’t much care. My father makes an indifferent Brahmin, I don’t see him wearing the sacred thread around his torso, don’t see him do the ritual sprinkling of water before meals, I have never seen him pray at all.  My mother now - hers is a different world altogether, she prays on the full moon night of Lakshmi-puja, marking the Gregorian calendar painstakingly in ink, picking out the correct confluences of suns and moons and constellations from letters that take more than a month to bridge the distances between her home and homeland half a world away.

She stands under the porch now in the fast fading twilight.

‘You’re late, child.  The rule is to get back home before the streetlights come on, remember?’

‘Where’s back home, Ma?’

'None of your cheek!' But something in my face arrests her displeasure. ‘Home is that land which puts food on your table.  Never forget the respect you owe her.’

WC - 999

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Doesn't need a sonnet

This too is not a sonnet – this evening
of discourse, maybe discourse is too grand –
a lesser word, of slightly muted ring
would fit better.  This isn’t a last stand,

some philosophical debate we must
engage in and prove this point or that,
a blazing issue raising heat and dust,
not even a pointless, desultory chat

about mundane non-events. It’s just your
cup, rimmed in myriad coffee stains, near mine,
sudden headlights swiped across walls and floor,
a yodelling cat at eight, the news at nine.

The warmth of your breath in rooms, a measured
pulse in my space.  Needs no sonnets or words.

Okay, mouse-potato happy-whingy self back on the red couch writing love poetry with brand new non-crisis on hands. I have never mastered the art of the smartphone blogging, or for that matter any of that interface, the teeny-tiny screen/keypad is hard on my feeble eyesight. So when my computer broke down last week, my heart sank to my ankles (it normally resides at the level of my knees. When it's not flailing around in my throat, that is.)  

This is an extra busy time, there's the upcoming Write...Edit...Publish... Halloween Octoberfest in a couple of days, (check out the link and sign up if you haven't already), and I am bang in the middle of online courses as well, where I have fallen inexorably behind because of my unscheduled travel to Kolkata and all that palaver. Apart from the dismay at the disruption in contact with family and friends which assumes unwarranted importance when you live far away from them.  Not a happy bunny, as you can imagine....

But then necessity is the mother of turning every last stone.  I took out and dusted off my ancient behemoth which got damaged in transit from Cairo two years ago. I never got around to disposing it, mainly because I didn't manage to pick out all the files I want saved from it, yeah, I'm lazy like that. One half of that laptop is kind of clinging onto the other half by one single wire, so I didn't have much hope - but hey! it still works! It weighs as much as a baby elephant, and its speed is just as ponderous as a full grown one, but it works. There's a silver lining to everything - even laziness, poor housekeeping and electronic clutter. Life lesson in there somewhere. 

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

In Between


This post’s late because all day yesterday
I travelled between my homeland and home -
curried cubed fish and three small golap jaam
were served for lunch in a neat airline tray;
though deboned fish isn’t the Bengali way
it was still festive, throwback to the drums
still being played at the marquees. I heard them
at 30,000 ft somewhere near Bombay.

All day yesterday I travelled between
being a mother and a daughter, a parent
to parents and child. On my in-flight screen
old Hindi films spooled out dramatic events,
a three-hour ten-minute stopover meant
thinking what 'mother' has now come to mean.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Red and white


The rain would make it gleam, right? caught chickens
on crimson paint zigzag white, mesmerised –
they didn’t see their reflections often;
the rain glazes more than barrows, clarifies
and blurs, polished broken grass – was there grass?
green on red, green and white – meaningful too,
rain-glazed this entire yard of colour contrasts.
Can’t spot the chicken feet in all this though,
but never mind, they’d probably fit right in –
ochre or pink feet in deep; rain or sun,
sunrise and sets, unspoken sky, everything
brushes the work, and the grass, and everyone.
Hear it or not, plain feet and ripped, broken
reflections are as loud as the garden.

As you can probably make out from above, I have been reading William Carlos Williams lately, and this one is another response poem to his Red Wheelbarrow. read his famous Imagist poem here.

I am posting from India, back at ye olde homeland, barely a month after the home leave.  Have had to return because my mother's unwell, hoping she will be better soon and I can go back to being my less energetic mouse-potato-self on my own familiar (red) couch in Bahrain.  E
verything depends on wheelbarrows and chickens and where the feet are!  The good thing in all this is, of course, that I am here in Kolkata for the start of my festival season, the Durgapujas, after a gap of some twenty years  :) :) unplanned, unasked, undreamt of....the skies here are to die for now!

Life can be a strange combo of tough and terrifying and terrific but always, always a blessing, still a blessing and an adventure!  

Have a glorious week!

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Talking about Stars...over at Write...Edit...Publish...

A whole heap of nothing
comes drizzling down the sky
a tempest of teacups
does it miss an I?
and is that eye quite clear
where everything’s gone quiet?
come see the stone’s rocking
the trees filtering light

till the dark has measured
itself in finite quanta
and floats like ice in glasses
and rims the answer.
Everything’s got methods
to make heaps of nothing,
to make tempests, teacups
and darkness inviting.

I am over at one of my most favourite sites Write...Edit...Publish...talking about Constellations, which is one of the prompts for the October challenge.  Darkness or light, that site is always inviting!  

The other prompt is, of course, Halloween....there is a choice! which is always great...check it out...sign up on the 1st and join in with your flash fiction, poetry, photo essay or artwork on the 19th for a great Octoberfest.  There are goodies to be won. An Amazon voucher (worth USD 10) and a personalised badge for the winner. And special badges for the two runners-up as well. 

Happy also that I'll be involved more deeply in WEP from 2017....helping seed the challenges along with hosts Denise and Yolanda, and Olga Godim who is their talented art designer.  

So hop over and check it out, the prompts are always meaty and fun :) and the conversation sparkling.  See you there!

Saturday, 24 September 2016

'It' is flexible and quiet and sometimes not flexible at all

It’s a distant single file of women
trudging through the scorching morning deserts  -
It’s a single winding line of silence.
A flower blooming, ignoring the fence.
A rash of lights on the dark of nightskin -
It’s always more in silence than in words.

It mostly needs no further embellishments,
a trade-off between this silence and that.
It stops too at the rank and the rotten
and tries to see nothing is forgotten.
The blanks of pauses make their quiet difference
the truth and the toothcomb, concise and exact.

Today this blog completes five years, and I was looking through the posts and here is the very first poem I posted called Pixellate.  A lot of water under the bridge since then, and I am rubbish at marking the individual waves, but I do notice how amidst all the changes, some things don't budge at all.  

What are you celebrating this weekend? Have a happy one!

Sunday, 18 September 2016

The Portrait of a Certain Silence

It’s not hundred percent, there’s birdcall, thinned
by the distance, the bird’s far off somewhere -
not tuneful but harsh, a throb on the wind,
the gnawing of water at the island’s fringe
a claypan of sound under the shallow layer

of silence. There are different kinds, incomplete
even when it’s peaceful outside, all tranquil;
the red noise still continues its own beat
strums its strings, digs its toes into the beach,
runs fingers down its own skin, can’t be still.

You know, I had this dream in my head of a recuperative, relaxed September after the total merry-go-round of August.  This image that I would settle down languidly on the couch every morning. The coffee mug would refill magically every hour.  And I would have written this perfect couplet by noon and then polished it till it outshone a diamond by nightfall.  Ha! Pfft! Mice, men, gang agley with a vengeance.  The image has had to, revised drastically downward.

The honest truth is - the MOOC I did over summer turned out terribly addictive. Once it finished end Aug, in some weird, panicked fit of withdrawal I went and signed up for some more. So there goes 'languid' out of the window for now, no hope of getting it back into my life till November at least, when the current ones end.  I hope to work the addiction out of my system by then and get back to my 20 words a day type output. We shall see.

The good news is of course lots of stuff to read and ye olde horizons expanded, and then those long horizons might just wriggle themselves into the writing somehow I hope.  And gazillions of writing assignments, too. It all adds up, though I am not sure exactly how or up to what.

But I do have a grip on my iambs finally, I think, and may even begin to understand feet and meter and stuff like that very soon. I might even take a stab at a properly dressed sonnet in its tux standing on its own feet over here. Who knows?

Is your life languid right now?  I hope it is as languid as you want it to be.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Shades of Orange As They Came Apart

I didn’t notice things – the colours of lipstick
for instance - she wore a shade between peach and brick;
dotted in her scarves too, the whole range of  orange
woven in her skirts and art, and in her magic.

She wore the deepest henna, that burnt tangerine
between her fingers, on her knuckles; dark, crushed green
staining her palms pumpkin-warm, climbing vines, blossoms
on her pulse in light apricot, and nectarine.

She fed me ripe oranges, taking them apart
tenderly in her palms, like segments of my heart;
she prised my world, eternity and each minute
wide open with her hands. The taste of that tart

sweetness remained, each segment a sunrise transferred
from her lifeline to mine. The fragrance remembered
as first sunlight flames on water.  The formless gains
shape as darkness ebbs. Undying preciousness, coloured.

In her rooms the walls are orange blossom, rugs gray
rainclouds, an ancient magazine and the doorway
fall open like her hands.  I shut my eyes, notice
the shades of orange in rust and dust, mild decay.

This is the final version of a poem I created for one of the prompts during the MOOC I did over July-August.  (Did I tell you there's talk of an anthology being compiled with some of the works that were created there? Watch this space)

The assignment was themed on Elegy and Memorial.  I thought I'd post it here today with thoughts for the families who have lost loved ones to terrorism in all the places that touch my heart, and life. 

The season's changing out here where I am, though the temperatures remain high, they are slowly softening. Much of this region of course has two seasons - hot and less hot, but my brain and body are still attuned to the Indian six. There's a cleaning up of the skies back home about now, lots of fluffy clouds chasing off the heavy dark monsoon ones, the festival season starts in less than a month.  It's a particularly beautiful time of the year.  'Sharat' we call it in Bengali, there is no English counterpart available, it's not autumn yet, a pre- or proto-autumn is more like it.

Here too, the plants which had been singed to cinders during the summer, are greening back to normal.  Flowers have their happy faces on, the leaves are plumping up.  I have been writing more, learning more, blogging a little less than usual, but the blog's going to green itself back to normal as well. Things are changing outside and inside. My year so far feels like an adventure and a gigantic blessing, which I suppose are synonyms really. 

I hope your year, and month, is going well too.

Monday, 5 September 2016

But that's not a poem

You are what you are, I am what I am,
I am what you are, you are what I am
east meets west somewhere, but that’s not a poem
north cuts south just here, the intersection’s home.

Parallel lines converge if I look hard enough
the vanishing point’s real, the rest’s just a bluff
and you are what you are, I am what I am
and we meet someplace, though no-one gives a damn.

The mountain’s just a pile of atom crumbs
the city’s gone ballistic, traffic’s a bit glum
and we’re what we are, we are what we were
when freedom was love, when freedom was war.

All the roads are dust, and all flesh is grass
the world is a clan and everything must pass
and I am what you were, you are what I’ll be
and it takes a sec for you to morph to me.

I am what I am, you are what you are
north meets south someplace, in café and bazaar
and east too meets west always and everywhere
but that’s not a poem as far as I’m aware.

You are what you are, I am what I am
the diff’rence’s slim, hardly a nanogram
and I am he and she, you are we and us
but that’s not a poem, that’s not a verse.